How different is too different?

Kimberly Reeves wonders what we think about recent press on citizen journalism and the rollout of sites like GetLocalNews and YourHub.

First, all press for this movement is good press. The mediati and a select few communities touched by these efforts know about them, but broader awareness is still a’ comin’.

As far as the efforts themselves, I continue to be pleased to see that there are so many different models. If we all attack this differently and learn from each other, it’s much more likely that we’ll find a sustainable model.

GetLocal is the inverse of our concept: They’re about planting a flag in as many markets as possible. That means that until they build traction, they’ve got a broad, but shallow content platform.We’re going to try and gain more traction in one market and then only build sites in markets where we think we can be content-rich on day beta.

It’s too early to tell how YourHub will work, but it seems a good idea. The one concern I have about it, as well as many other CJ efforts is this: How different (in format) from traditional MSM local news sites can you be and still attract substantial sustained readership?

Many CJ sites are in a single-blog format. That may serve the true believers, but will the average Joe Reader adapt to that format in time for a business model to arrive? Further, does such a format effortlessly deliver sustained relevance to the reader? (To succeed, it must.)

One other issue I’m seeing, as exhibited with YourHub, is the temptation to segment by neighborhoods. I’m not sure that’s the right level of precision, and it’s certainly not effortless. I live on the edge of Lake Highlands and Lakewood — I’m interested in both. Furthermore, while I’m interested in restaurants in those areas, I’m interested in tapas restaurants all over town. Even further– we don’t have kids, so my interest in schools and youth sports (wherever they are) is minimal. Most importantly, I don’t know that I want to make the effort to look at three "sections" of news every day (ie: Dallas, Lakewood and Lake Highlands).

We think the future is customized relevant news delivery based on implicit and explicit preferences. It still navigates like a traditional news site and has individual stories in a database as opposed to broadly-specific blogs. That site delivers headlines based on interests both geographic and not– and the user doesn’t ever think "I’m going to go look at the Lakewood section and then the High School Football within the Sports."

The technology to enable that is easy. The hard part of it is the amount of content you have to generate to fill all those sections in the database. And that’s where the hybrid of full-time journalists and citizen stringers comes in.

UPDATE: As if to prove my point about the problems with picking a neighborhood, a debate at Andrew Bowser’s

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.